Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Race to Watch in County Commission District 13

A surprise newcomer, Brandon Morrison, emerges as a threat in the Republican primary to incumbent Commissioner Basar, while Democratic favorite George Monger vies with another novice, Charlie Belenky,

Posted By on Sun, Mar 25, 2018 at 11:08 PM

  • District 13 Commissioner Basar
For the third time in his relatively brief political career, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar is up against a determined political  woman. His  batting average so far is .500, with 1 win out of 2 tries, but he’s up  against what would appear to be a serious challenge in his reelection effort this year in the Republican primary for District 13.

Basar won his seat in 2012 after defeating the comeback bid of once-influential social conservative Marilyn Loeffel in the GOP primary for a Commission seat vacated by Mike Carpenter. In the general, he would win an expected victory in his preponderantly Republican multi-member district over blogger/high-tech professional Steve Ross, the Democratic nominee.
click to enlarge GOP challenger Brandon Morrison
  • GOP challenger Brandon Morrison
Once in office, Basar became chair of the Commission’s economic development committee and made a point of opposing some well-backed high-profile developments in the downtown area while cheerleading for others, incurring controversy both ways.

He would become Commission vice chair and began to harbor ambitions for the Commission’s budget-committee chairmanship, a fact which did him no good with a onetime supporter, then committee chair Commissioner Heidi Shafer, also a Republican. For that reason among others, Shafer would devote her considerable influence to blocking what Basar had thought to be his automatic elevation to the chairmanship in 2014. Democrat Justin Ford would become chairman instead.

In the fallout from that defeat, Republican Basar entered into an operative alliance with the Commission’s Democrats on a series of procedural issues, then lost a second bid for the chairmanship in 2015 when fellow Republican Terry Roland pried away the vote of Eddie Jones, one of Basar’s Democratic allies.

Here it is 2018, and Basar assumed he could at least count on a safe reelection in his East Memphis/suburban District 13. There was no sign of anxiety on his part during a well-attended fundraiser of his last week at East Memphis restaurant Owen Brennan’s. Basar seemed unconcerned at the prospect of businessman George Monger and newcomer Charlie Belenky publicly competing for the Democratic nomination.

But it is now obvious that Basar has serious trouble in his own party primary from the previously unheralded Brandon Morrison, a political novice herself but a woman with good standing in social and civic circles, well-steered by seasoned consultant Brian Stephens, and with increasingly visible support from Republicans — and well-heeled ones at that — in District 13. Indeed, as yard signs bearing her name began to sprout, the word was getting out — and fast — that she might actually be the favorite in the GOP primary
click to enlarge Monger (l) with supporters at Novel fundraiser - J B
  • J B
  • Monger (l) with supporters at Novel fundraiser

Democrat Monger is a former Election Commissioner and business/political prodigy of sorts who is the clear favorite in his own primary (though Belenky, a newcomer to Memphis, is certainly working hard). As Monger, a fiscal conservative capable of appealing to moderate Republicans, noted to supporters at a Friday fundraiser at the Novel bookstore, “We started out thinking we had a ‘Bye-bye Steve’ campaign to run, but now it looks like he’ll be taken care of before we can get to him.”

click to enlarge Democrat Belenky
  • Democrat Belenky

Whoever wins out in the Democratic primary may find it necessary to compete hard for crossover votes in the general election. Basar himself is considered a moderate, and, while Morrison is still something of a mystery to the general public, her campaign website makes a point of underscoring the principle of “diversity” and contains this passage:

“…We are a city with soul, offering a wonderful and welcoming vibe that appeals to young people. We must work hard to keep them here.

“We also face serious challenges, such as crime and poverty. It is unthinkable that so many Shelby County School students live in extreme poverty. About 40,000 of our 115,000 Shelby County School students live in a household earning less than $10,000 annually. We must do better….”

Whatever happens, the race for District 13, a swing district of sorts in the narrowly divided Commission, is going to be one worth watching.

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